Two miles up the road, the Kildare footballers, also outsiders, nosed their way in front of the unrelenting Mayo in another classic.
The Curragh blew a favourable wind over St Conleth’s Park for the Lilywhites and they grasped it with both arms, determined to finally make their home advantage count. What does this victory mean for Kildare?
No silverware was handed out after Saturday’s thriller but Kildare GAA now have a real foundation stone for their future.
This game of football and all the emotions that swelled up in the county last week can be a catalyst for real change. The County Board should have renewed energy to push ahead with their redevelopment of St Conleth’s.
Local businesses will see the benefit of helping the County Board to achieve this and the clubs will be motivated to produce more quality players. And the players? The players have a lasting memory of how to win a big game.
I believe this win will be more beneficial in 2019. It’s a bonus if Kildare make the Super 8s. The real goal for this group of players will be to get back to Division 1 and win the Leinster Championship.
The Kildare management will replay this performance before the start of next year’s National Football league to remind their players that they can win tight, pressurised games at home. They have the Derry and Longford DVDs in their lockers too, to show them how to win ‘on the road’.
There are some exciting new players from the current U-20 squad who can make the step-up next year, to strengthen their hand.
Players like Mark Dempsey, Jimmy Hyland, Paddy Woodgate and Brian McLaughlin. The current Kildare players stepped up to the mark last Saturday. Why?
We’ll speculate that it was because Cian O’Neill made a passionate speech during the week. What I can say for sure is that the Kildare players made passionate plays during the game.
Passionate play from David Hyland: He kept Cillian O’Connor scoreless from play. His mission was simple. Keep the Mayo captain quiet. Track him and chase him. Get a hand in at all times. Lift the crowd with a block.
Support your other defenders when in need. Don’t concede any goal. Good full-backs can play football too. Hyland has all these qualities. With the game poised at 18-17 to Kildare, Hyland broke forward and found himself on the Mayo 21m line.
A high ball floated in. “A back’s ball all day,” came the desperate cry from the Lilywhite beside me.
He naturally meant a Mayo back. But it was the Kildare back David Hyland who rose highest. Ball collected. A pop pass to his Athy team-mate Niall Kelly. A fisted point. Kildare 19 — Mayo 17.
Passionate play from Fergal Conway: He took the game to Mayo. He collected the ball from deep and ran 30 metres before scoring Kildare’s first point of the evening. He didn’t shy away from the mammoth task of trying to curb Aidan O’Shea’s influence.
He competed in the air and on the ground. He ran hard at Mayo again and set up a score for Paul Cribben.
Diarmuid O’Connor was slicing through the Mayo defence with a goal on his mind. He reaches the 14m line. The ball spills. He pulls on it but Fergal Conway throws himself in the way.
Had Conway being playing in Russia on Saturday evening it would have been classed as ‘a goal-saving tackle’.
In Newbridge, it was seen as a game-saving tackle.
Fergal Conway’s clubmate from Celbridge did one of the best man-marking jobs that any player has ever done on Kevin McLaughlin.
McLaughlin is hugely influential for Mayo. He chips in with several scores, wins countless breaks and frees and normally digs Mayo out of tricky situations. On Saturday evening Celbridge’s Kevin Flynn stuck to him like a piece of gum on your shoe.
He broke McLaughlin’s heart with his resolute determination and passion . He mightn’t have received the plaudits that Paul Cribben and Neil Flynn received, but he was just as important.
Passionate play from substitute Niall Kelly: Picture this, Mayo are a point down and on the attack. The powerhouse Aidan O’Shea charging straight at you. O’Shea is five inches taller and two stone heavier than you.
A Spanish Bull charging at a red-breasted matador. Surely only one outcome. Kelly braced himself. He spread his arms wide and with strength and resolve took the hit and stripped the ball off Aidan O’Shea.
Energy sapping moment for O’Shea and Mayo. Energising moment for Kelly, as a sharper Niall Kelly should probably have sidestepped David Clarke and scored two goals on Saturday. Kelly is a very similar player to Monaghan’s Conor McCarthy. Both are hard to mark and have an eye for goal. He should be sharper next weekend.
Sometimes passion can cloud the mind and players take the wrong option as a result. The flashy and classy Kildare free-taker Neil Flynn was an example. He has a booming kick from the ground.
He kicked three of his seven placed balls from the ground. He also missed three from the deck, ranging in distance from 44m – 60m. He had another opportunity to redeem himself.
The dashing substitute Chris Healy put his neck on the block and won a vital break against, once again, the much bigger Aidan O’Shea.
Healy wins the free approximately 55m out while Aidan picks up his first yellow card. Flynn takes possession of the ball. Neil Flynn closes his ears to the crowd and for the first and only time all game takes a quick free from his hands.
The ball is worked across the pitch to Allenwood’s Johnny Byrne. A clever and unselfish dummy run from another Kildare sub David Slattery allows Byrne the half second required to find some space and score a cracker.
The Allenwood defender produces a Johnny Doyle moment. A special score for a special game.
Maybe I was wrong. Kildare players will receive some silverware for their heroics. Newbridge Silverware might produce a momento of Saturday’s classic, as this game deserves to be remembered as a collector’s item.